My muse is a bad, bad girl… making me unable to focus on everything else I should be working on, until I finally gave in and wrote this. Blame her for this story…
Thanks and love to Sarah Blackwood for the beta… and for convincing me to really use the chapter names I joked about (which come from a famous TV show of the 90's. Shiny gold star for anyone who can identify it…).
Disclaimer: The characters and situations of Doctor Who belong to the BBC.
"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Chapter 1: deny everything
It doesn't matter, she tells him, for once not lying or stretching or embellishing reality as she usually would. The loss of her parents doesn't matter; not for her, and not now.
Because the truth is this: she knew. She's always known. Maybe not specifics or precise events, the exactitude of how things would play out. But she's known, for years already, how this particular adventure would end.
Her mother had always been remarkably bad at keeping secrets.
In some ways, some very important ways, Amelia Pond was nothing like her daughter. She'd never been raised with the idea that sometimes words or concepts are precious secrets, to be saved and delivered at just the right times… and River had always loved her despite that, and because of it. Marvelled, even, at how her mother would just let things come flying out, heedless of timing or tact. Mels would never have done that. Mels had been too bound up with the truths and mysteries buried in her heart and mind to ever speak without thinking or planning five steps ahead… and River, herself, was the same way.
But Amelia Pond was something else entirely; and River would never have changed her for the world.
And so, even in the years that had followed, the times that River -full of the foreknowledge of what would come- saw her parents so young and happy, she'd never quite blamed Amy for the truths that had spilled out when she'd innocently arrived on her parents' doorstep. Because she knew what would come, eventually. That the loss of the Ponds wasn't really loss at all.
In the privacy of her mind, she still capitalised that day. The Morning That Everything Changed. And heavens, but she'd been so young back then. With the assumption of her degree, she thought that she'd finally put Melody Pond to rest. She'd become River Song, doctor of human and alien archaeology, graduating from the prestigious Luna University with the highest honours imaginable. River Song; her own person for the first time in her life, and capable of doing… well, anything.
And then -in what felt like the blink of an eye and a surprisingly passionate kiss on top a pyramid- she'd become something else. River Song, the newest inmate of a maximum security, intergalactic prison for a crime she hadn't committed.
(Not to mention: River Song, married to a thousand year old alien who'd faked his own death, but still visited her in the evenings.)
Well, she rationalised as she paced back and forth in her cell, it wasn't like she'd ever been normal. But this turn of events was trying even her own sensibilities.
"I want," she mumbled aloud, feet beating a relentless tattoo across the floor, "I want…"
But even that thought escaped her, because she didn't know what to want. Life outside a cell? She had that every night. To go back in time, to be Mels Zucker again? No… because Mels had come with her own set of problems; and despite everything, she was much more content with River's lot in life.
But there was one thing Mels had had, that River didn't. Friendship. Laughter. The company of her parents; even if Amy and Rory hadn't been aware of their relationship at the time.
And so -in a fit of pique, with a hint of loneliness and longing for the familiar- she groped beneath her bed, searching for a certain armband she'd stolen out of the TARDIS wardrobe.
No; not stolen. Liberated. For all she knew, it might even be hers from the future anyway… because she couldn't imagine what the Doctor would have been doing with a vortex manipulator when he had the TARDIS. But she'd rapidly picked up (in what had been said, and what had been hinted at) that River Song had always had her own methods of travel, quite independent of her husband.
So. Manipulator around her wrist, she took a deep breath and waited for the guard to turn his back so she could see whether the Doctor had been right after all. He'd claimed (and rather smugly too) that River Song could walk in and out of Stormcage as though the bars didn't even exist… and he was right. Picking locks was a trick Mels could've done in her sleep, and something her fingers had evidently never forgotten… and in moments she was standing outside her cell, setting the manipulator to track her parents down for a visit.
In retrospect (and with years more experience of time and space travel behind her) it had been monumentally stupid of her not to have paid attention to specifying which parents… But in fairness, back then she couldn't even have conceived that there might be right or wrong ones. They were Amy and Rory Pond; they'd always be Amy and Rory Pond… and so River closed her eyes as the vortex swirled around her, making her skin tingle and hair stand on end as she was zapped far away, thinking only of wanting to find her parents again.
She opened her eyes, blinking in confusion at an unfamiliar door when it burst open without her even raising a hand to knock.
"I knew it was you," Amy said, pulling her inside with a huge smile on her face. "I could just feel it… I told Rory that you'd be coming by at least once this week. Motherly instinct, I call it; even if he makes fun of me when I say that. Anyway, come in, come in. Nice clothes; bit… modern, though."
River cast an eye over her clothing choice -t-shirt, jeans, boots- and felt immediately underdressed. Amy, for the first time since she'd ever known her, wore a suit. No, not just a suit. A dusky violet coloured suit: knee-length tailored skirt and a delicately fitted, exceedingly feminine jacket, with a crisp white shirt underneath buttoned nearly up to her chin. Her hair was carefully coiffed and pinned back in place with star-shaped clips; diamond earrings swung and glittered from her ears.
"You look… nice," River said, trying in vain to rearrange her face, to make it more obvious her jaw hadn't nearly hit the floor in shock at seeing Amy in something so out of character. "The violet suits you."
"Nice?" Amy asked, doing a little twirl. "Just nice?"
"Beautiful, I mean."
And she was, of course. Amy always looked beautiful. But River had never seen her looking so… she couldn't even find the words to describe what she was seeing. It was like looking at a photograph of someone you know, but from before you knew them. This was Amy Pond, and yet not; and that thought was somehow very sad. She'd escaped from Stormcage to see her parents, to have just the tiniest hint of normal communication in an increasingly abnormal life… but whoever this Amy Pond was, she was nothing like what River remembered. It went beyond the clothes, and even her age; evident in the silver strands glittering among the bright red, the laugh lines etched around her eyes and mouth. There was just something so… different, and it was driving her mad because she couldn't figure out what it was.
"It's new. Just got back from the shops, and couldn't wait to try it on. You'll come with me next time; yeah? I love it when we can go shopping together."
"Umm… yes?" It seemed like the only answer she could safely say, given that her attention was caught as she turned every which way, looking around with wide eyes and feeling the wrongness of this situation seeping into the very pores of her skin.
"This isn't Leadworth," River blurted out, focusing on the not right elements she could see. The huge telly that had been Rory's pride and joy had been exchanged for an old fashioned typewriter in the corner, and a gleaming wooden radio sat in a place of honour by silver framed, black and white photographs of the Pond and Williams' families. There were fresh flowers in crystal vases on the tabletops, and the furniture was clean and starchy and oh-so-proper… such a far cry from the mismatched, cosy house she'd expected to find herself in.
"This isn't, is it? It can't be Leadworth!"
"Of course this isn't Leadworth. It's our flat… I mean, our apartment-" Amy said, lowering her voice and speaking the last word with a deliberate and extremely overdone American accent, "in New York. Why do you look so confused? We've been here for years, River. You know that."
"You know that," Amy repeated, her eyes scanning River's face in confusion. "Right? You know…"
"No," River said flatly. "I don't. I don't even know when this is. My body clock tells me that this is the early 20th century… but that's impossible. This whole situation is impossible and in so many ways."
Amy's face fell; eyes widening with horror and pale hands clasped to her mouth.
"But you've always known when you visit… just how young are you, now?"
River gave a little laugh, the sound brittle and false even to her own ears. "Don't you know not to ask a lady her age?" she said, attempting to sound light and funny and failing miserably.
"Don't give me that, Melody Pond. You and I both know that you are no lady."
"Like mother, like daughter?"
Amy started to laugh, putting her arms around River, hugging her close. "True," she murmured, her words getting lost amidst her daughter's curls. "All too true.
"I never thought I'd have to be the one with the answers; it's always been you who knows everything. Still… I'll make tea and we'll have a chat. Catch up."
"Tea?" River asked, following as they emerged into a spacious kitchen, bright and gleaming and thoroughly old fashioned. "Americans drink coffee."
"We," Amy said, the ease with which she fluttered around the kitchen locating kettle, tea, cups and sugar laying to rest the idea that she was merely a visitor, "are not American. Even though we do like it here. And coffee isn't so bad -it's hard to get proper tea all the time, so we try to save it for special occasions- but your Dad and I find it hard to break some old habits.
"We're running a bit low on it now; in fact, when I saw you I thought you'd brought-"
Amy stopped abruptly, full tea cup in hand before she spun around, carefully setting it on the table and hugging River again.
"Never mind," she declared. "I'm glad to see you, whichever you it is."
Whichever you it is were very telling words, and River rolled them around in her mouth, tasting them like you might some exotic new food, grimacing as she rapidly stirred lump after lump of sugar into her tea and paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to what she was doing
"I've missed you," Amy said frankly as she sat down, delicately splashing milk into her own cup and taking a sip. "It's been too long since your last visit. You'll have to come back again soon though, to see your Dad. He's not here; early shift at the hospital this morning.
"How long has it been since you've…" The words wouldn't come out, no matter how hard she tried to shove them through her lips.
"Seen you? Or," Amy narrowed her eyes, searching River's face, "since we've been here?"
"Both, I suppose."
"Two weeks, more or less, since we've seen you. And… nine years, maybe."
River nodded absently, still stirring even though the sugar had long since dissolved. Clink clink clink clink went the spoon against the porcelain. She stirred faster, the tiny sounds moving as quick as her brain couldn't. Clinkclinkclinkclink. Amy laid a hand over hers, pale slender fingers gently lifting the spoon away.
"You look so confused, and I'm sorry." She sounded honestly regretful, and River risked a glance over, seeing Amy's face full of sorrow and a hint of pity. "I thought you knew… you always seemed to know when we saw you. But I guess you're really young, now."
"People might actually believe I'm your daughter," River mumbled.
"With that hair?" Amy stroked a hand down her curls, cradling River's cheek in her palm for a moment.
"Tell them it's a lost quirk of DNA. That's what happens when you mix 2000 year old Roman genes with stubborn Scottish ones, and then add a dash of Time Lord. Hair that better befits a poodle."
Amy laughed aloud before subsiding into silence once more, stroking her hand gently over River's curls, and tucking a stray lock behind her ear.
This felt like a dream, this entire situation. Amy's clothes. The apartment. The fact that she was remembered to have been here before, and yet was unfamiliar with every aspect of this… Even the room and the view out the kitchen window felt unreal. After the constant darkness of Stormcage, it seemed unnatural having mid-morning sun streaming through the window, illuminating everything with a golden glow. Everything seemed bright and full of life… except River herself. There was an ache in her heart that the sun wasn't touching; shadows that it couldn't seem to brighten. Once more her family wasn't quite as she'd hoped they'd be; and at that thought, the loneliness rose up in her throat, almost choking her.
"When are we for you?" Amy asked, her voice whisper soft.
"I've finished university," River answered slowly. "I'm a doctor of archaeology, now." She couldn't help the slight thrill of pride that went through her at saying those words. There'd been a few days in there when she was sure she wasn't going to finish… but she'd made it, after all.
"I wish we could've been there to see you. I hope someone took pictures?"
"There are a few floating around. I suspect that the Doctor was there even though I didn't see him, because I'd swear I've even seen one framed and hanging in the TARDIS. If you like I'll see if I can find some?"
"Please," Amy responded immediately. "We'd like that. There are mementos and photos we don't put out; too obvious that they don't belong in this time. But we'd still like them, for us. They help us remember; I mean, not that we'd ever forget! But they remind of us of how things used to be." River nodded absently; smiling without thought, and not even really listening.
"I thought we were going to chat?" she asked abruptly. "Aren't you going to tell me why you're here in this time, and what is going on? Obviously in the future I know and won't be surprised; but right now I have no idea what to think."
"I just knew you were going to ask," Amy said, with a tiny sigh. "I couldn't convince you not to…?"
River raised an eyebrow. "Pond genes," she replied, shrugging. "If you were told 'you'll understand soon enough, dear' , would you have ever accepted that?"
"Rory and I fight about who you take after the most," Amy said, a broad smile stealing over her face. "I think I win. It's obviously me.
"River; I'm really sorry because I can't tell you a lot. It would be spoilers… Oh, now I'm saying it too." She groaned theatrically, and River bit her lip, trying to hide a grim smile. It was his word, the Doctor's word, and it seemed so out of place coming from Amy.
"Well," Amy continued, sobering with great effort, "something happened. You'll understand eventually because you were there… will be there. Obviously it's not happened for you yet, because you're still too young. You're a professor by that time."
"Me?" River asked, momentarily distracted. "Now that one is a spoiler. A professor? Do I get out of Stormcage eventually; or just break out to teach lectures?"
"Ohh…" Amy closed her eyes, scrunching up her face in consternation. "Forget I said that! Anyway, you'll understand eventually. Why we're here, why we ended up in New York. It was angels… The Weeping Angels? We've seen them before, at the Byzan-" Amy stopped talking abruptly, eyes wide.
"I am so bad at this spoiler thing," she muttered, seeing the confusion spread across River's face. "Don't tell the Doctor I made so many mistakes; he'd never let me hear the end of it.
"River, I can't tell you the details. I shouldn't tell you, rather. But you've heard of them, right? The Weeping Angels? They're these predators, and they came after Rory." Amy was speaking faster and faster, the words coming out in one big rush.
"Things got bad, but we thought we'd managed to fix them so they'd be alright; but then they weren't and we got…" She took a deep breath. "The word stuck sounds really bad, because we're not exactly; but… well, I think that's the only way I can say it."
So much information and yet not enough in Amy's speech, and River mentally dissected it into small, digestible bits. Predators after Rory. Fixed things, but not enough. Stuck in New York in the early 20th century, but not really…
"You're making this up," she said, starting to laugh. Trying to laugh rather; it was stuck in her throat and came up instead as choked, mirthless gasps. "You must be! Predators after Dad, and then getting stuck in old New York? Where is he; the Doctor? Is he hiding in a closet somewhere, waiting to see if I believe this?"
Amy's face was a frozen mask of surprise before she leaned forward, gently putting her hand on River's arm.
"This is really tough," she said softly. "I didn't get how hard it was for you, back at Demon's Run and having to tell us things we weren't ready to understand.
"River, he's not here. The Doctor. He's not able to; he can't come back for us in the TARDIS. Not ever."
"He must," River insisted. "You can't be telling me that he actually let you do something so that he can't fix it and get you back? Because if what you're saying is true, then… then you have to call it what it is. Stuck. You're stuck in the past, and you're telling me that it can't be fixed?"
"That's not the right word; and I'm sorry I can't explain any better," Amy murmured, not quite meeting her eyes. "No; he can't fix it the way you're thinking he should be able to, but it's not exactly stuck…"
Amy could try to talk around it in any way she wanted, but stuck was stuck; and suddenly River couldn't deal with it anymore. The sheer wrongness of the situation. The apartment, and Amy's clothes and her indescribable air of being different, and her calmness in talking about why she and Rory were trapped -exiled, even- in the past with no way to fix things.
She'd come to see her parents. To snatch a few moments of normal, surrounded with her friends and family despite the insanity of her life; and instead had arrived to find that things were wrong -again- and once more the Doctor couldn't fix them. And with that thought, anger and sorrow and rage bubbled up inside her, scorching her throat and searing her insides like bile.
And then, she ran. Wrenched her hand from her mother and ran out the apartment, pausing once she was outside the door to hastily punch coordinates into the vortex manipulator and return to Stormcage only moments after she'd left.